Editor’s Note: This profile of Kathy Palmeri first appeared on the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’ (ARVC) blog.
Kathy Palmeri is the chairman of the ARVC Task Force on Voluntary Industry Standards and was previously the owner of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park of Estes Park in Estes Park, Colo., for 17 Years. Othere positions she has held include ARVC chairwoman and board member • ARVC Foundation Board Member • President and Board Member of the Colorado Campground and Lodging Owners Association (CCLOA) • Board Member of the Estes Park Chamber Resort Association • Governor-appointed Board Member for the Colorado Tourism Office • Advisory Council Member for Colorado, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) • Chairman and Board Member of Visit Estes Park • Director of Business Development of Cruise Inn RV Parks
How did you get involved in the campground industry?
When we moved from California to Colorado in 1991 we did what all good Californians do — we started buying real estate. When we moved to Fort Collins, I used to look in the newspaper all the time for property, and one day there was a campground for sale. I thought, “that would be interesting.” I was a big camper back in the day. That’s what my family did for vacations. We went to look at it and it was the only campground we looked at. It was in a tourist destination called Estes Park, which we knew was very strong. My husband wasn’t a camper, but he had a business background, so I convinced him to give it shot. We were going to run it for three to five years until my husband’s IRAs were unlocked. Seventeen years later, we sold the park to our children. They operated it for 11 years until they received an offer that was too good to turn down. The sale was very bittersweet because the park was my legacy, but I’m thrilled for them.
What do you feel is one of the biggest challenges independent campground owners face?
One of the challenges I found in my time in the industry, and in leadership, is that one of the things that bring entrepreneurs, mom and pops, to the table is the feeling that they can do anything. It takes guts to go out and spend that kind of money on a campground. You hit the ground running and you are running a small city, basically. We treated our own sewage, we treated our own water, we had a laundromat, we had a store and we had no background in any of that. It makes you feel impervious, which also then tends to make you put up a wall and say, “I don’t need help. I’ve got this.” I’ve met way too many operators that have trouble admitting that they don’t know everything. Nobody knows everything.
What is your current involvement in the industry?
ARVC President and CEO Paul Bambei has been hosting the past ARVC chairmen in Florida every January for the last eight years. At our last meeting, he and I started talking about how our industry needs to take control of our own destiny and oversee ourselves by setting some kind of minimum standards. ARVC formed a task force to explore the creation of voluntary baseline and enhanced standards for the private campground industry and Paul asked me if I would be willing to be the chair.
I’m really flattered that he gave me this opportunity to re-embrace the industry that I love so much. We have nine members on our task force, plus myself and three ARVC staff members — Paul, David Basler (ARVC Senior Vice President of Membership and Marketing) and Susan Motley (ARVC Vice President of Member Programs). It’s working out fabulously. We’re getting some really good work done. We’re establishing a set of clauses that create a standard. Some clauses are going to be considered baseline, things that campground owners really should be doing and then we’re going to have some enhanced clauses that we think are a really great idea. Then we’re going to create educational content around these standards.
The topics we are considering include health and safety, security, general operations, terminology, environmental impact, customer experience, infrastructure and maintenance, recreation and ethics. Participation in the program will be voluntary.